By August 22, 2005

External hard drive enclosure review

About six months ago, a brand new 250GB Samsung hard failed on me. I sent it back to Samsung, and bought another 250GB drive from newegg.com, thinking that I would use these two disks as a start to an eventual RAID 5 project. Samsung quickly sent me back my replacement drive. I think it was gone maybe a week — but I was surprised to find a 300GB drive in the RMA box. Uh, that’s generous of you guys, but two different sized sets of drives is going to fuck up the whole mirroring thing.

So my 300GB drive sat in my closet until yesterday, when my AMS VENUS DS-2316CBK Firewire 400 and USB 2.0 hard drive enclosure arrived.

By putting my spare 300GB drive in this external enclosure I could use it for backing up my music, videos, and photos, disconnect the drive from my network, and keep it in the closet. With all of the lightning storms we get around here, I’m waiting for the day that a strike takes out my main file server. I could also take the external drive over to someone’s house, so we could watch all those shitty Battlestar Galactica episodes.

I chose the AMS Venus after reading reviews and opinions all over the Internet about external enclosures. I wanted an aluminum enclosure that had Firewire 400 and USB 2, which automatically put me into the $40USD+ range. I also wanted larger external fans (the Venus has 80mm, most of the actively cooled units have 60mm fans), and now I was looking at units $50 and over. Firewire 800 units are available, but they’re $90 – $100USD and I wasn’t interested in spending that much money. I bought my AMS Venus enclosure from NewEgg for $59USD, shipped.

Now, a lot of people prefer fanless (also known as passively cooled) hard drive enclosures. They want their enclosure to be as quiet as possible, and I respect that. But I also think that you’re setting yourself up for problems with a 3.5″ 7200rpm high density drive. These suckers put out a lot of heat. If I had a 2.5″ (laptop-sized) 4500rpm drive, sure I could see doing a sexy stealth portable drive. But that’s not what I have, so that’s not what I bought.

It’s of no importance to me, but the Venus doesn’t have the option to stand upright. It has to sit flat, like this:

I didn’t take a snap of the back of the enclosure, but there’s a Firewire plug, a USB 2.0 plug, the power adapter plug, and the really small on/off switch. Plenty of other reviews on the Venus harp on the small size of the switch, so I won’t bother with that here.

Here’s the inside of the Venus case. Installation is really super simple. You loosen two screws in the back of the unit and maneuver the plastic clasp to release the drive bay.

The drive bay has a fan mounted on the bottom:

The Venus unit is raised up by little tiny feet with little tiny rubber shoes on them. It’s cute. I promise.

All you have to do to install your hard drive is plug it into the power and ATA socket.

Next steps: plug the power adapter into a socket, and either the USB or Firewire into your machine. Turn on the unit.

If you have any Microsoft Windows operating system including Windows 2000 or older, you don’t have to install any drivers. The external device is recognized as a hard drive, and you can start fooling around with files immediately. Any Macintosh OS 9 and higher will also recognize the drive without the installation of drivers. If you use Windows 98 or ME you have to install a driver, which is included on the disc.

Total install time: 5 minutes, including opening the box, screwing the hard drive to the sled, and plugging it into my computer and a power socket.

So far, this thing is bad ass. My only complaint, and I knew this before I bought it, is that the logo is on the front plastic bezel and looks tacky. I considered buying a brushed aluminum unit , but I didn’t want to spend more money to get the features I wanted (active cooling, all aluminum, USB 2.0 and Firewire 400).

I might do a follow up review on this, but I intend to buy some more of these come Christmas and give them away with some of the other drives in my closet as gifts. I know that my stepfather Professor Sparx and Lady Jaye’s stepfather Bullethead could both use them to archive their digital photography. I know you other dorks out there have spare drives, so you might want to consider doing the same. 40GB of offline storage space would go a long way with Professor Sparx, as he only shoots in 2.xMP resolutions. And now that my lowest capacity drive in service is 60GB, I have tons of smaller density disks in my computer parts bins.

Super Bombastic Features:

  • Active cooling for hotter 3.5″ 7200rpm drives.
  • Both USB 2.0 and Firewire 400 for compatibility. If your friends don’t have either USB or Firewire, you should gank the stone tablet out of their hands and beat ‘em with it.
  • The external power supply is small — it’s a brick and uses a standard electrical plug. So no taking up multiple plugs on your power strip with a giant transformer.
  • Hardware installation is wicked easy. I’m not bullshitting when I told you it took me less than 5 minutes to hook the whole thing up.
  • Drive recognition in your OS is also a snap. Honestly, my mom could do the whole thing.

Opportunities for Improvement:

  • Smallish power switch. I would have liked a big ass metal toggle on the back of the unit.
  • I mentioned this before, but the logo is pretty garish. Fortunately you won’t notice it if the ambient light is dim or you’re not looking at the unit directly.
  • Inability to orient the enclosure vertically may be a detraction for some.

AMS Venus External Enclosure, I happily award you:

Four and a half out of five stars

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